Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rhubarb Pie: A Community Effort

This is a story of how it takes a whole community to make a pie. I want to thank everyone for their generosity, help and enthusiasm – especially Jim Carrico for being the connector and catalyst. With the care that has gone into it, this is sure to be one delicious pie!

JIM CARRICO OFFERS THE INGREDIENTS, BETTY MOORE BEARS THE NEWS
It was only a week ago when Betty delivered the news that Jim Carrico would be sending me fresh rhubarb from his garden in Colorado all the way to Far West Texas. “Sure, sure,” I thought. “It’s a sweet thought but I doubt he’ll follow through.” This afternoon I was on my way up to Mimi’s house to collect her empty pie plates – the glass ones that keep getting passed back and forth as I bake my pies for her shop and she returns them for me to refill yet again – when I heard my name being called across the cactus fields. I was being summoned back to my house by Betty, who I could see even from the distance, had a visitor with her. The visitor was holding a large plastic bag. Rhubarb delivery!

JOCELYN DELIVERS THE GOODS
Jocelyn, a tall strawberry blond young woman, had just driven 750 miles from Colorado and brought with her a huge bundle of the promised stalky red-green celery-like vegetable. How did anyone ever identify this as a good ingredient for pie?!
Out of small-town courtesy, Jocelyn stayed for a few minutes to exchange stories. (Besides, there’s no hurry in Terlingua.) “Two months now,” I answered when she asked how long I’d lived here. “Two years,” she answered when I asked how long she’d been away from our darling desert town. I pumped her with questions about her round-the-world travels through Asia, Antarctica, and beyond from which she had just returned. Even after exploring the big, bold, beautiful world, she is happy to be back in this funny little corner of the planet. That’s one thing we have in common: our love for Terlingua. That and Jim Carrico, our faithful rhubarb provider.

MIMI WEBB MILLER PROVIDES THE VENUE
When I set off for Mimi’s I had been planning on making apple pie. This was in spite of Mimi’s comment: “Can’t you make anything else?”
“Sure,” I said. “If you want to pay the premium price for imported fruit. It’s not like you can get any locally grown ingredients around here.” I couldn’t help but reflect back on my year in Portland – a pie baker’s paradise – where I picked pounds and pounds of blueberries, marionberries, blackberries, raspberries, and peaches in the summer, and, in the fall, apples. “Apples are easy to get and they’re pretty durable in this climate.”
“Okay,” Mimi replied. “But I just think we should have some variety.”
Ask and you shall receive. Enter: Rhubarb. I still had to go up to Mimi’s to get the pie plates, which was timely as I now needed to borrow her cookbook to find a rhubarb pie recipe. She was thrilled with the news that her very first menu in her new weekly dinner series would feature what she planned to name “Jim Carrico’s Special Rhubarb Pie.”

TOMMY MOORE CLEANS, PEELS AND CHOPS – AND SHARPENS
I returned home with pie plates, recipes in hand, and rhubarb waiting to be washed. Just as I was settling into pie baking mode (complete by donning the prerequisite and decidedly unglamorous outfit of apron, head scarf and sports watch/timer) with my iPod cranked full volume I had my second visitor of the day. (It’s such a rare occurrence to even SPEAK to another human being during my days here, let alone have people VISIT my house!) Tommy, a neighbor/massage therapist/cabinet maker, stopped by to drop off yet another rogue pie plate (per Mimi’s instructions, so he said). Regardless of his motivation, he was just in time to help. I buttered him up by offering him a beer first, then dropped the bomb: “Would you mind cleaning and peeling the rhubarb while I made the pie dough?” He was happy to oblige – until he tried three of my knives and found each of them to be unacceptably dull. “Do you mind if I go home and get my knife sharpener?” he asked.
“Hell, no,” I said. “Go right ahead!”
Tommy not only did a superb job cleaning and chopping the rhubarb for the pie, he also left me with a drawer-full of sharpened knives.

TERLINGUA RESIDENTS DO THE REST
I followed the rhubarb pie recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook (the 1953 edition) for a Rhubarb Cream Pie. I have no idea how it’s going to taste, but at least it looks edible. I’ll let the rest of the Terlingua community be the judge of that. For anyone interested, dinner – and Jim Carrico’s Special Rhubarb Pie for dessert – will be served at Espresso y Poco Mas tonight at seven.

THE RECIPE
Combine 1 and ½ cups sugar, ¼ cup all-purpose flour, and ¾ tsp nutmeg (I used cinnamon). Beat into 3 slightly beaten eggs. Add 4 cups 1-inch slices rhubarb (I used 5 cups). Line 9-inch pie plate with pastry; fill. Dot with 2 Tbsp butter. Top with lattice crust. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees) for 50 to 60 minutes.

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